The Embodied Situation of Power
Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 7, 2010
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When suiting up with that “power tie,” you may also want to strike a pose — a power pose, that is. New research indicates that holding a pose that opens up a person’s body and takes up space will alter hormone levels and make the person feel more powerful and more willing to take risks. “These poses actually make you more powerful,” said study researcher Amy C.J. Cuddy, a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School.
The opposite also proved true: Constrictive postures lowered a person’s sense of power and willingness to take risks. Cuddy teaches the results of the study to her students. . . .
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In the study, researchers randomly assigned 42 participants, 26 of them women, to assume and hold a pair of either low- or high-power poses. The high-power posers spent one minute sitting in a chair in front of a desk, with feet resting on it and hands clasped behind the head, and, in the other pose, they stood, leaning forward over a table, with arms out and hands resting on the table. In both poses, the participants took up space, an expression of power not unique to the human world. For example, peacocks fan their tails to attract a mate and chimpanzees bulge their chests to assert their hierarchical rank, the researchers noted.
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The low-power group sat for one minute with their hands clasped on their thighs, legs together, and also stood for one minute with arms folded and legs crossed.
After the subjects had finished their poses, they were given $2 with the option of keeping it or gambling it on the roll of a die. Depending on the outcome, the subjects could double their money or lose it.
Subjects also were asked to rate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt. The researchers measured hormone levels before and after the poses.
Those who held the high-power poses saw their testosterone increase, while their levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, decreased. Testosterone is associated with dominance and tends to rise before a competition and after a win, but not after a defeat, according to prior research. People in power tend to have lower levels of cortisol. Although cortisol levels can fluctuate in response to challenges, chronically elevated cortisol levels seen among people with low status have been associated with health problems.
The high-power posers were more likely to risk their $2 for the chance to double it: Eighty-six percent took the gamble, compared with 60 percent of the low-power posers. They also reported feeling more powerful and in charge than did the low-power posers.
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Read the whole story at LiveScience. Image from Flickr. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture,” “The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” “The Situation of Trust,” “Embodied Rationality,” “The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!,” “The Situation of Body Image,” “The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” “Sam Gosling on the Meaning of the Stuff in our Situation,” “The Situation of Touch,” and “The Situation of Hair Color.”